The Soto Initiative – 1

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37 thoughts on “The Soto Initiative – 1”

  1. This whole discussion seriously is keeping me up at night lately, in all the TPRS/CI places I’m seeing it discussed. I have been fascinated, and while I finally got a minute to process in real life with a few non-world-language colleagues, for which I am grateful, this notion completely consumes my thinking, on multiple levels.

    Here’s my question, for those running full-steam towards jGR, because it has been a thorn in my side since I first implemented it, and it is one of the things inducing me to drop it altogether: How do you deal with the differences?

    I hate giving a number to an introverted kid for whom it is painful to talk much. I blame my husband and my daughter (and Susan Cain) for helping me realize that in our culture we reward extroversion and it can be really problematic for people who aren’t wired that way.

    My Aspie kids are never going to look at me. And while I can easily differentiate for them when it’s listed in a 504/IEP, what about the kids who just haven’t been yet diagnosed with a neurodivergent development pattern?

    As an adult, I have only recently been diagnosed with ADHD, finally putting a name to this thing that has been an issue my whole life. Like many women my age, I internalized all that crap that goes along with it–namely, a belief that there was something wrong with me, at my core. If I had been expected to behave the way I’m expecting my students to behave, it would have added fuel to the fire. It’s one thing when I know I’ve got a fidgety kid or one who likes to doodle because it helps them listen. It’s a whole other thing when the shy girl at the back heaps shame on herself because she’s not conversing.

    I get it–I get why we have to engage with others on an interpersonal level in order to learn a language. My son was language delayed–I hauled him to the specialists when he didn’t speak. Not talking was a thing to be examined and explored further. (As it turns out, he just needed more input, and for big sister to stop translating for him so much.)

    I’m teaching K-10 these days. I see how important it is to take into account a child’s developmental age when instructing them and setting expectations–that’s pretty much what I adjust all day long, since it’s Spanish I to everyone. I get that I am, in fact, teaching behavior, for many of them. Because if those Kindergarten kids are talking to their neighbor all class long, they’re not getting any input, they’re not going to learn. But it pains me to heap additional judgment on a kid who just developmentally can’t control his or her impulses to chat with frends.

    Yes, I’d love to pitch grades in all shapes. Especially with my litle ones–it’s a waste of time. But I have to play the game. So I’m knee-deep in figuring out which rules that I will arbitrarily set come with ramifications I can live with.

    1. Kids can get an A in my class by simply listening attentively. I do not require eye contact. I do not require speaking. I require them to show understanding. Maybe in others’ hands, more numbers-oriented people, more judgmental people, jGR can harm kids with neurodivergences, or introverts, but I am really lenient on them.

      As I pitch everything in my first semester classes (I teach at middle school so I have the first semester of Spanish and French and then one eighth-grade class of second semester of first year French) except jGR, I am concerned by your concerns though.

      I know that for me it jGR is sort of a smokescreen so the adults can get out of the kids’ brains’ way. Like make them understand that literally their ONLY job is to LISTEN and understand or READ and understand. And that the output will come in time. Timed writing — output. Quick quizzes — OK I might miss those…are they output? This to me is the only way to not really get hung up on grades. The only thing I will have to worry about is what happens in the 54 minutes of class. The only thing they will have to worry about is relaxing and enjoying class and understanding.

      I want to hear more from you Keri, because if I am putting all my eggies in one basket, then I want to make sure my basket has no holes in it.

      1. I feel like I’m extremely lenient on damned near everyone. Except for the kids that are blatantly causing problems in my class and frustrating me. In which case, it’s left for the kids that are driving me crazy, and so it more closely parallels how I’m feeling about that kid rather than something that will help that kid behave better. And it’s more about behavior than it is they’re Spanish acquisition (however slow) and is a low grade going to have any impact there? Or should I be dealing with behavior in a different way altogether?

        And that just feels really subjective. In other words, the conversation in my head goes something like this (to be honest and vulnerable, here): “That kid can’t stop blurting into English, and he’s doing it just to get under my skin. And so I’ll play it cool here in class, but his jGR score is going to be super low today and see how he likes them apples.”

        So, again, while I can be lenient when I know there is a 504/IEP plan (which still makes me worried about the “undiagnosed” kids), am I really using jGR to assess how a child is engaging in learning? Or how angry *I* feel? So then I am in this constant battle of, “Well, I don’t know if that kid was doing “10” work today. They didn’t say anything, but were they listening? I don’t know. . . they weren’t causing problems for me, but maybe they are just feeling extra vulnerable and shy today. . . but maybe I need to assign a lower score because that’s not really what I’m hoping they’ll do, either, because if that is the case then . . . yadda, yadda, yadda. It is really mentally very taxing for me, even when I see it through the most positive lens for me as possible. . .

        1. I am not taxed by it. I see it as a message from me to the kid: You are doing exactly the kind of listening in this class that leads to acquisition, or you are in need of some better listening/communicating skills.
          All grades are somewhat subjective. If I also happen to feel angry at the kid, sitting there at my gradebook, that is probably because I am upset that they have done things that were disruptive/annoying/disrespectful. That is natural because I care about having classes that are focused and calm as possible.
          I guess the test is, for me, can I remember specific instances of the kid’s not being up to the level of jGR that I would need to see, to give them a higher grade? Like if i can picture Mary with her head down, or working on math instead of reading, or not responding to questions with the group, and I can picture multiple, clear times, recently, then I know it is not just my feelings in the moment.
          My feelings in the moment – sitting there with my gradebook – are probably because I care so much about Mary and the rest of the class and I am frustrated that she is not getting what she could out of the class. But if I do not communicate that to her, so she can improve her communication (mostly receptive at my level, first year Spanish and French) skills…she will never progress, because she will not be understanding any input if she is not attentive to it. All the gorgeous hypotheses in the world about how we acquire languages matter not if the kid is not hearing the messages we give to them.

  2. “So I’m knee-deep in figuring out which rules that I will arbitrarily set come with ramifications I can live with.”

    Yes it can be hard. I think that it is a matter of how it is viewed.

    Though I have enjoyed the fire of this topic, I recently received an email from a parent about their daughter’s IEP plan.

    I had previously read it but yeah, she doodles while listening. However she responds very well to questions in French. She even did a hula dance in front of the class with another student as part of a CWB activity.

    Do I just judge her according to the rubric? Nope. If she has a plan, I have to adapt. Actually, it is a great opportunity to go slower for everyone else. Universal access.

    The more I see jGR as a way for progressing and when I communicate this to students, my classes are more positive.

    The more I tell students that it is punitive, the more the class falls flat. My stories actually turn sad.

    Even if it’s hard sometimes, I choose to be positive. Every child is a blessing.

  3. The people who contribute to this PLC are amazing, caring teachers.

    I, too, have been following – at least to an extent – the discussion of jGR in other venues. Some of the questions that have been raised are excellent because they take us back to a consideration of what we are trying to accomplish and how effective our mechanisms are in accomplishing that. One of the sadder things about the wider discussion is that there seems to be an assumption on the part of at least one person that anyone who uses jGR or a similar rubric can only be an insensitive clod who is out to make life miserable for “atypical” students. Nothing could be further from the truth, though I understand how jGR can be misused to make students’ lives miserable. But isn’t any tool capable of misuse? I can use a hammer to construct a shelter or crush a skull; I can use jGR to create a safe space for acquisition or as a bludgeon to crush a child’s spirit. The misuse makes neither the hammer nor the rubric an evil thing. And that is all I will way about the wider discussion in this setting.

    One of my goals is to have as few grades as possible in my grade book and yet enable my students to have a good understanding of their ability in the language. I try to use jGR as a way to encourage students, but I also have to be honest with them about how their actions do or do not reflect standards of Interpersonal Communication. This year I gave a couple of pretty low jGR scores and got the desired result: the students came to talk to me, and we discussed what they were doing that merited those scores. Amazingly enough, the behaviors changed and the jGR scores went up. These are high school students, so I know that the situation is very different for elementary teachers. I also had a two students who suddenly were angry with one another and disrupting the class. After putting them in the hall, I talked to them, told them to work it out, let them stand in the atrium outside my room and yell at each other all period, then talked to them again. Eventually the problem worked out. Did their jGR grade suffer? Nope.

    Our Avid and Special Ed teachers deliberately direct their students toward German because they know that these students will be successful in my class. Just before school was out, I talked with one of our Vice Principals, and she is putting a student into my class this because he needs the kind of support I give. I had a student who is on the autism spectrum. At the end of his freshman year, I jumped him from German 1 to German 3. As a junior he took German AP, then took the exam and got a 3. At his last IEP meeting, I told his parents that he never took notes in my class. “Nathan” started to react, but I continued: “His ability in German shows that he didn’t need to take notes, so I wasn’t about to make him do something he obviously didn’t need to do.” He grinned.

    It doesn’t matter whether a student has an IEP/504 or not. I am supposed to differentiate instruction anyway. I am certain that I have missed some students over the years, but whenever I see that a student needs an accommodation, I make it. Our school secretary still says that she is grateful that her son had me for Spanish some 15 years ago. Otherwise he wouldn’t have made it through school. His problem was that he couldn’t sit still for a long time. While his IEP was that he should get “preferential seating near the front”, we reached the conclusion that it was much better for him to sit in the back. Then he could stand up and pace whenever he needed to without disrupting the class. He was near the door so he could step into the hallway if necessary.

    Kari, do what you know to be best for your students. Give grades that reflect their success, whether that success is large or small. I highly recommend that you – and every teacher – read Stephen Camarata’s book “The Intuitive Parent” through the lens of teaching students. He has some very solid advice.

    Actually, I would love to get rid of jGR as well as other grades. I’m still working on moving my students up the stages of moral development to the point that they at least act based on how their actions affect others. The ideal, of course, is to reach the level of “I have a moral and ethical code of conduct, and I adhere to it.” But that is rarified air for everyone.

    Okay, enough rambling. School starts for me next Tuesday.

    1. Our Avid and Special Ed teachers deliberately direct their students toward German because they know that these students will be successful in my class.

      Just another example of a professional goal of mine as mastered by Robert!

  4. It is of great value that you bring up the shy, introverted kids you describe above Kari. They can be a victim of jGR since they are so closed off. I think there is an article in the archives here from about four years ago that discusses this very point. If anyone finds it please advise, because Kari’s point is a major one.

    The way I personally handle it is by just trusting what I see in their eyes. I am their teacher. That should count for something. Plu, I am constantly monitoring formatively what all of them are doing, and I trust my gut. I know that trusting one’s gut is not something that we as professionals are encouraged to do, even if we have been doing it since forever. Rather, robotic humans who may be half our age and who may have never been in a foreign language classroom tell us that we must document. Fine. But I feel that, if the world were not so caught up in measuring things, a rational person would trust my professional evaluation of even my introverted kids. Without quizzes or tests of any kind.

    Anyway, I’m sure other thoughts on this conundrum would be welcome!

    1. jGR is going to favor more extroverted personalities, in the same way story retells or listen and draw are going to benefit more introverted personalities. One is inherently social/conversational, the other opens up a conversation with a text-perfect for the quiet kids. Some kids love interacting with others- so make them actors and pull out a TPR rubric. Some prefer a good book, so do a quiet Read and Draw. That’s part of the reason why jGR shouldn’t be all of our grade. Multiple measures of assessment are best.

      Guys, undergrad I made a C in golf. Aced my other “real” classes, but I MADE A C IN GOLF!!! That was 11 years ago, but I will carry a grudge til I die. But maybe it’s my lack of athleticism or general coach-potato-ness. But it is appropriate to assess students right where they are at so they can be aware of their strengths and weaknesses and grow formatively.

      It is not appropriate to reduce kids down to one number that tells them what we think of them. Grades suck.

      Question: are you allowed to grade for growth (called an ipsative assessment)? Because ESL is an intervention program, that’s how I’ve always graded. Did you go up or down on the rubrics to demonstrate growth? Will your admin let you do that? Do you have “benchmarks” you have to meet? If so, can you talk your way out of that if we wrote up some talking points together?

        1. Lets not be hard on ourselves. I’m not athletic myself but Ive scored a run in baseball in the 6th grade and a touchdown in 7th. However, the bullying keep me away from PE. So we have to create an environment of joy. So far my only grades are jGR ones but that ia more of a management piece. The kids are getting way too relaxed sucking air our of the room and blurting. Ill be making some calls and ill be talking to my lowest kids. Then other assignments will be added and shift the grades.

      1. Im glad you chimed in Claire. My California standards for teaching even state to get assessment data from various sources. It wouldn’t fly since I still have to clear my credential. I will still be doing freewrites, in class retells and their grade will still be affected by student jobs. I will probably still disguise more ci for a summative but it has to be aligned with my instruction.

      2. Thanks for the comment, Claire. Many districts, mine included, are open to the idea of “power grading” (Marzano) as part of Standards Based Assessment. But that is still criterion-referenced assessment, a definite improvement over norm-referenced testing in my opinion, and not ipsative assessment.

        It would be great if you could explain implementation of ipsative assessment in the school setting. We do it all the time in other areas, particularly sports; athletes talk about their “personal best” all the time, and this is a form of ipsative assessment. Just think, your golf grade could have been better if it had been based on progress.

        Many teachers do a bit of this with pre- and post-tests. They can show growth over time in students’ abilities. I think this could be developed as at least one more assessment to go along with jGR, perhaps quick quizzes, and a couple of other measures.

        Just thinking out loud a bit.

        1. I have decided I am very anti-test now. Mostly because of the bullying about my assessments being ” too loose” -or “subjective”– I’ve been getting lately from CI people. Now I’ve decided I’m righteously indignant about the “collect more data” arms race that testing is. As though kids were lab rats and tests were 100% accurate (besides the 25% margin of error built-in). It’s about selfishly trying to PROVE you are better instead of making the kids better learners. I’m turning over tables.

          No tests. Essays are worse.

          Grades will stink no matter how you do it, but you mentioned standards-based grading (the word “standards” makes my skin crawl) as in a mid-term or end-of-the-year summative–but no collection of grades throughout the year. This is a great approach-fewer grades is better. You could use a holistic rubric like Lance’s to score where kids are at relative to –but wouldn’t you need supporting evidence like in a portfolio? How do your principals let people get away with standards-based grades with no evidence? I’m not judging, it’s cool… do what you have to in order to give fewer grades. But people need to stop calling my assessments “too loose” because day-um. If you can get away with this, by all means.

          But a grading ipsatively will only work if you collect actual data. Not pre-test, post-test, but like rubric on month 1, then the same rubric months 2-10.

          You could so just let them pick three goals: increase the number of Freewrites, move from a “2” to a “3” on a rubric, log X number of hours with SSR, etc.

        2. Robert what you said made me think of another thing going on, at least in Denver Public Schools. Hopefully they are not doing it anymore but I think they still are. They make bar graphs of each teacher’s students’ collective scores on the district exit exam. That is shaming to us. The same people at the district offices who are comparing our kids to each other are comparing colleagues to each other. I don’t see how that helps anyone. Judgement of people is what we are doing. We keep judging each other all the time. No wonder schools are in such deep pain.

      3. Never heard of ipsatively grading.

        I can say that while I have tremendous grading flexibility in my classroom on many levels, at the school where I am now a quarter’s grade is only 40% of the semester grade. The other 20% comes from a semester final exam which I am expected to deliver on certain testing days (twice a year, obvs). Only the semester grade goes on the report card. (I can do a big semester project that is presented during that time if I choose.)

        I have been equally fascinated by the discussion of the validity of assessing kids on whether they know something, given the fact that we acquire at different paces–the idea that jGR allows us to assess more positively the kids who may not be speedy language processors. For its faults as discussed by others on the TPRS/CI interwebs, it has merits in that same vein of differentiating.

        I think I just don’t ever feel like I’m being anything but subjective when I apply it personally. And it worries me that I see the world through certain filters which I have yet to dismantle (for instance, working on keeping the male/female ratio equal, or incorporating activities that allow my introverts to succeed), subtly reinforcing certain systematic prejudices (even though I really try to be open to those issues).

        At any rate, I appreciate the feedback to my questions, how you all are viewing it. My head continues to spin, but it’s nice to hear from a variety of people about it, to get out of an echo chamber.

        1. Kari, I’ve been reading this thread and churning about it myself. I don’t believe there is s single measuring stick we can use that is absolutely “the one thing that works.” Like Ben said, the real things are unmeasurable. The pure reality is that grading and assessing are subjective by nature. We are humans not robots and naturally view everything through our unique sets of filters. I think it’s important to be aware of our filters and acknowledge them, for sure. Since we work within a system that requiires “objectivity” we have to do the best we can, but to state that a person can be 100% objective seems empirically false to me.

          I think we have to give ourselves and our students a break and lighten up as much as possible. Sure, I use jGR and other rubrics because I am required to enter numbers, but I never let those documents be so “black and white” or take them too literally. Honestly when I enter grades in the machine, it’s all super subjective because if the “final average” caluclated by the program does not seem to reflect where the student is, I go back in and tweak the numbers so it comes out logical based on my direct observation and interaction with the student. Objectively speaking of course. Ha.

          1. A big part of my own use of jGR is the student self-reflection because it opens a dialog with each student. This is important to me.

          2. I can’t remember exactly who made the comment that they would like to find a way for students to enter in their own self-assessment of the jGR electronically, but it CAN be done with Gradecam. I’m not sure if it’s new or not, but you can create a quiz with a “rubric” option instead of just true/false or multiple choice. I haven’t tried it myself, but it appears that students can enter in 0-4 for their points, and then Gradecam makes it really easy to scan and enter these scores into your gradebook if it’s electronic.

    2. It has been my understanding that jGR is a way to acknowledge the participation of those who are reticent to speak out, or who follow along in their quiet way, or whose interaction is more subtle and less verbal.
      It also is a way to acknowledge, honor, and reinforce the essentiality of comprehensible input.
      It is furthermore, a recognition of the primacy of the interpersonal mode in the language acquisition process (first and successive languages).
      As such, it tied us into the ACTFL guidelines in a meaningful and thoughtful way.
      It is, finally, a way to validate the differential rates of acquisition.

      It is with regret that I recall a quiet student from years ago whose grade was brought down because of the lack of “participation,” whereas it would not have had she been graded for Interactive/-personal Communication Skills.

      I have also checked two blog sites where jGR/DEA (Latin Best Practices term) has been questioned (to put it lightly) as a student-hostile practice, unrelated to CI and acquisition. As I mentioned, their were designed to be more student friendly. My experience is they have been.

      Maybe it is not necessary to look, listen, and respond to learn a language. Maybe it is a lesser practice to use a rubric based on those channels of communication, but it was not created as a way to punish the shy, quiet, timid, or introverted learners.

  5. Ben: “I also believe that ALL assessment is an exercise in wasting everyone’s time. Both mean assessment or compassionate assessment, SBG assessment or Carnegie assessment: they are all a waste of my energy.”

    Assessment is beautiful. If we don’t assess student responses to the input we give, we won’t know when to go just a little faster or slow down for a second. We also don’t listen to our little trees or teach them how to listen to each other with peer assessments or self-assessments.

    Documenting assessments can protect ELLs and act as a counterweight to all the hateful tests they encounter. Documenting assessments might be less important for you, but people don’t devalue assessments that are crucial to the comprehensible input we provide.

    But the real problem is illustrated best when you asked “Who am I to judge whose subconscious chose to remember what, when?”

    Thinking about What words? When? is the problem.

    This is truly a discussion on curriculum. To make instruction and assessment purely focused on messages, as in pure CI, we can’t think that we are teaching kids “to remember what, when.” So that means we can’t integrate it into our curriculum… or else we feel pressure to “master” targeted structures at the expense of what is most compelling and keeps the focus on messages. There should not be a “what” in the assessments or curriculum we use. No wordlists, not even HFWs, no themes, no grammar.

    There should not be a “when” in the curriculum we use. Don’t map out week-by-week what words you have to “master.”

    Everyone stop what you are doing and read Ben’s book and make a commitment to using emergent targets. If you feel you must pre-script targeted structures, it will be harder to be compelling enough to stay focused on messages, but it can be done. Any way you do it, take the targets OFF your curriculum’s stated outcomes. Use targets however you’d like, with a script or unscripted, but don’t plan your assessments and instruction around “whose subconscious chose to remember what, when.”

    Simply teach with comprehensible messages, then ask: who understood what messages?

      1. I love it. And yes, read Ben’s book. Working on the Invisibles with Ben late last winter quickly transformed my teaching wen I started to work with this emergent storytelling. I am really psyched to start the year rolling with this system. I am realizing that targeting structures or words is not in line with the theories/research. This is important to me. Not only is it more fun, it is also more brain-based. What’s not to love?

  6. To me jgr is a guide for students to know what they need to do in order to acquire the language.

    Without it they wouldn’t have any idea of what is required of them to be successful and make gains in Spanish (and as human beings) in my class and wouldn’t know my expectations. Levels 3 & 4 have it internalized very well and it is used less and less. I still use jgr for a grade bc I need to put something in the grade book or I get called out by the principal.

    What I am trying to do this year is take it off my hands and have students self assess every week. I did this in the past and they were pretty good (generally speaking) at knowing what they had put into their time in class. However, it took too much time for me to process and get this in as a grade so I stopped doing it. My search now is to come up with some online way in which students could submit their self assessment.

    Problem kids have to be dealt with in different ways whether or not I use jgr. Of course their grade is affected, but it would be anyway even if I wasn’t using the rubric.

    I don’t think this rubric favors the extroverts at all. Shy kids in my class do very well. I am not there to change anyone’s personality. Each one shows their engagement and efforts according to who they are and I respect that.

    Finally, I disagree with Claire that assessment is beautiful or needed for true CI. I am constantly “assessing” during the CI interaction. I know very well when I look at a kid and say something that is HF and I’ve repeated 10 thousand times and he still doesn’t understand me. All I can do is work on going slowly for him, write it on the board and keep repeating in different contexts and ways that it may come up naturally, until his unconscious (I like this one better Ben) picks it up. I don’t need any instrument (assessment) to guide my instruction. Going target less supports my position even more. If I could have pass/fail I would save a lot of wasted time, but I can’t. So I assess for the bosses, not for CI.

    1. …I am constantly “assessing” during the CI interaction….

      This is what I understand Claire to be saying as well. She is all about connecting with students in the real way and sending them nothing but positive messages which is what you are saying as well Laura.

      At least a few of us are honoring the kids’ needs to be treated like people at whatever stage or condition of life they happen to be on that given day, instead of being treated like things to be measured. The time of the data bots is coming to a close. When I read what Claire and Laura and others are saying here, I know that it is just going to be a matter of time. That’s all that is needed. Time and courage on our parts to stand up and say the right thing to the right people at the right time in the right way. No pressure, right?

  7. “Finally, I disagree with Claire that assessment is beautiful or needed for true CI. I am constantly “assessing” during the CI interaction.”

    That’s all I’m saying. CI interaction is assessment. Call it what it is–if not textbook teachers will continue to bully us.

    1. The beautiful part of assessment that Claire has made me realize is that it is as natural as breathing for those of us teaching for comprehension. How else do we know they are comprehending? We check our every utterance, scanning the faces, the eyes, weighing the strength of the physical or choral response. It is a way of life for us. I have argued long and hard with Claire, poor patient soul, about my desire to work as little as possible (for my students, for me, for my family, for me to have the mental energy to be a real human being in front of them who need a fully-present adult sometime in their day, so badly) and her desire to assess. I saw it as MORE work. She showed me it is the work I AM ALREADY DOING. So, I might choose to write it down. I might not. But I am CONSTANTLY ASSESSING. We ALL are. We all have ALWAYS been. It is these newfangled money-hungry data wonks that want to make us think that assessment is just a Test. Assessment is the very air we breathe in the classroom. And these corporations are trying to take the air from us and sell us little bags of it. To administer on April 16-21.

  8. “I don’t need any instrument (assessment) to guide my instruction”
    But you just said jGR is a “guide” to make expectations clear. JGR is an assessment.

    1. Are not assessments guides? A grammar and vocab test, for example, guides a student along a certain path, in which it is not necessary to pay attention if you can ace the test through cramming or a great memory. A

  9. Yeah, I think we are mostly saying the same thing.
    jgr is an assessment. I would prefer pass/fail and done, but will never get my way.
    I defer to you Claire. You are the expert.

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